The Foreign Service Journal, December 2023

34 DECEMBER 2023 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL the difficult choices we had to make. I emphasized that we did not want this outcome but had no choice. I will always remember a conversation at the end of one of those town halls with one of the Russian employees who had worked in our public affairs section for 18 years processing the numerous international visitors we sent to the U.S. She told me she was sorry to hear that she was being let go. She said she appreciated our effort to explain candidly how we had come to making the difficult decisions on personnel. She said that working for the American embassy had been the greatest experience of her life and thanked me. I had tears in my eyes as she gave me a hug and said goodbye. FSJ: What advice would you have for today’s ambassador to Moscow on dealing with the Russian government? JFT: I don’t need to give Ambassador Lynne Tracy any advice. She is enormously qualified and has a long background of service in Moscow and at difficult Foreign Service posts. Amb. Tracy was my deputy when I was ambassador, and she was intimately involved in every aspect of our diplomacy with Russia. She ran the embassy brilliantly and has a wealth of knowledge about Russia and our relationship with Russia. I thought she was an ideal choice to be our ambassador at such a difficult time in our bilateral relationship. She epitomizes the professionalism I spoke about earlier. FSJ: Early in your career you had experience working with Moscow on the delegation to the START arms control negotiations leading to a successful agreement that held for decades. New START, now the only remaining nuclear weapons treaty between the U.S. and Russia, was set to expire in 2021, but the two sides agreed to extend it for five years. However, in February, President Putin said Russia was “suspending its participation.” Do you have any hope for Russia to return to the agreement? What might it take to restart arms control cooperation between the U.S. and Russia? JFT: I served for about a month with the State Department team at the START negotiations in 1985. It was a great experience, sitting across the negotiating table from the Soviet group. I learned a lot about arms control and the process through which we and the Soviets tried to find negotiated compromises to some of the thorniest and most technologically complex issues. I think that we will have to wait and see how the Russian war in Ukraine transpires before we can know with any confidence whether Russia will return to compliance with New START and how they will proceed on nuclear arms control in the future. With the war having a serious impact on Russian finances, I do not think the Kremlin wants to get into any new arms race. We also have to remember that the clock is ticking; New START will expire in 2026 and cannot be renewed. FSJ: In the late 1990s you served as DCM and chargé at Embassy Moscow. How would you compare that to your time as ambassador there in 2014 to 2017? JFT: They were two very different periods in the history of our bilateral relationship. President Boris Yeltsin still ruled in the late 1990s when I was DCM. We had a broad-based bilateral relationship, featuring visits by President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore. Gore headed a bilateral commission with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that met every six months or so. Cabinet members and ministers in a variety of fields met regularly to shepherd many different bilateral initiatives. At the embassy, we had wide access to Russian officials and to the Russian people across the country. Later, my three years as ambassador were marked by serious strains in the relationship caused by Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and subversion of the Donbas in 2014. Western sanctions had begun to hurt the Russian economy. The Russian government could not impose economic sanctions on us, so they took it out on the embassy. We had our access to officials limited Ambassador John Tefft and his wife, Mariella, meet with former President of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev at the Gorbachev Foundation on Oct. 12, 2016. From left: Ambassador Tefft, Mariella Tefft, U.S. Political Minister Counselor Anthony Godfrey, and President Gorbachev. COURTESY OF JOHN TEFFT